An increasing number of international carriers are launching ultra-long-distance routes, making it easier and more efficient for travelers to reach far-flung destinations. But spending almost a full day at 35,000 feet takes a toll on the body.
Until this month, the longest nonstop commercial flight — Sydney to Houston — clocked in at 17 1/2 hours. But because we humans are (a) amazing innovators and (b) gluttons for punishment, that barrier has been broken. Now travelers can spend nearly 19 hours on the 9,000-mile Singapore Airlines flight between Singapore and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, which launched last month. With three weekly flights, Singapore is reclaiming the title for distance and time in the air, which it had ceded to other airlines (United, Qantas, and Qatar Airways among them) after canceling this same route, which it flew from 2004 to 2013, because of fuel costs. Since then, technology has advanced so much that airlines can continue to stretch flight times while also improving the passenger experience on board.
Several new features on Singapore Airlines’ A350-900 ULR aircraft directly address common health concerns. The planes simulate a lower altitude of 6,000 feet to make you feel less worn out once you land, while raising cabin humidity to combat dry mouth, eyes, and nose. They also have eight adjustable temperature zones and lighting that mimics the course of a normal day in an effort to mitigate jet lag. Airbus also claims it has the quietest cabin in the sky, so you may be able to get more sleep. One other big change: nixing the economy option from this new route in favor of business or plushed-up premium economy options.
Further proving its commitment to excellence — it’s no accident that Singapore has earned the top spot for international airlines in T+L’s World’s Best Awards for 23 years running — the airline is also partnering with Canyon Ranch to offer in-flight stretching videos, created by the resort’s exercise physiologists, and nutritious dining options, such as wild-caught prawn ceviche and lemon angel food cake.
Even if your version of a long flight is less than 19 hours, you can step off the plane feeling healthy and energized with the simple strategies below from four travel-health experts.
Help your circadian clock adjust ahead of time.
It can only shift about an hour a day, so for shorter long hauls, Lawrence Epstein, MD, American Academy of Sleep Medicine past president, Assistant Medical Director of clinical sleep medicine Brigham and Women's Hospital, recommends staying up one hour later (or go to bed one hour earlier) until you’re on the new time zone. Don’t use your phone or computer for an hour before bed; their blue light can cause alertness and ship your sleep schedule. An eye mask can block light from other people’s devices.
Use a good noise-canceling headset.
Even if you’re not listening to music, at least it drowns out a lot of extraneous sounds that can prevent you from getting some rest, says Petra Illig, MD, Member of Airline Medical Directors Association. Avoid putting essential medications in your checked bag. And keep all of it, including herbal medicines, in its original packaging to avoid having it confiscated by security.
Stay hydrated by drinking at least a glass of water an hour.
Rosella Peck, a United Airlines long-haul flight attendant, notes that the air on planes tends to be very dry, which can make your throat feel sore. Her don’t? Skimping on personal amenities. In economy, bring a pillow and earplugs; push up the headrests to support your head; and invest in some quality compression hose or leggings, moisturizing cream, and hydrating spray.
Exercise every couple of hours to keep the blood flowing.
For Richard Carmona, MD, Former U.S. Surgeon General and chief of health innovation for Canyon Ranch, that might include pumping your feet up and down, tightening your quad muscles, doing chair lifts, and stretching your arms and fingers. Essentially work through the range of motion with all your major joints and muscles. He advises watching your caffeine or salt before a flight. Both can cause vessels in your body to constrict, which can raise your blood pressure and make your muscles feel swollen.